Settling in to its new home in the ‘golden mile’ Crescent in beautiful Monkstown, the hum of a neighbourhood favourite filled with happy diners greeted us on a recent midweek trip to Le Plancha. No mean feat, we agreed, for a wintry night in January. With a menu inspired by the Iberian Peninsula adventures of husband and wife team Eimear Branelly and Andrew Lawlor, Le Plancha seemed like the perfect spot for an imaginary break to the sun-filled shores of Spain. As my dining companion Rachel lives in that neck of the woods, our dining destination decision was easy.
On the south county Dublin seafront, this driven couple have created a little escape in Monkstown – just the tonic for a dreary evening. Inspired to take the formula of combining less than a handful of local ingredients, cooked on a traditional steel plancha grill back home with them, Le Plancha focuses on simple food, thoughtfully prepared. Opening as a neighbourhood bistro in 2011 in Blackrock, both work in the restaurant which lends a nice personal touch to the buzzy bistro.
Settling in to our window-side booth, the perfect setting for a leisurely girl’s catch up, the very charming Alex filled us in on our options from the special’s blackboard, which I was pleased to discover were mainly seafood delights. To truly trick ourselves into believing we had taken a little break from Baltic Dublin, it was vital to immerse ourselves in the kind of delicious cuisine we would enjoy in coastal Mediterranean climes, so today’s catch was the order of the day. This decision was affirmed when I spotted Mourne Seafoods in the list of suppliers – I knew we were in for a seafarer’s treat. That said, a 42oz Tomahawk Steak for two cooked on the plancha did sound unmercifully tempting!
Calamari is a little guilty pleasure and after a long, disciplined January anything described as frito was bound to call our names. While I felt that the light tempura on the hand-cut rings could have been slightly crispier, I have to say the squid itself was very nicely cooked – tender and not at all chewy. Calamari Frito €9 put up very little resistance to being devoured and played nicely with the aniseed spike and acidity of pickled fennel and a sweet chilli jam both cutting through the batter.
On more than one occasion, I have come across ‘Prawns Pil Pil’ on menus and subsequently been presented with a terracotta dish of miniscule shrimp swimming in flavourless oil. When well executed, this is a classic that can immediately evoke that holiday feeling and I was pleased to discover that Le Plancha’s Whole Gambas in Garlic, Parsely and Smoked Paprika €12 managed to do just that.
Four plump and juicy gambas smacked of the plancha’s unique smolder-kissed flavour, heightened with smokey paprika and bold amounts of garlic. The aroma alone had me hastily dismantling shells at an alarming rate, manners be damned. Slick with quality olive oil studded with parsley, which was mopped up with a bar of house-made tomato foccacia bread, this starter was very much enjoyed.
Keen to ensure I made the most of the plancha’s charms, I opted for a main course of Seared Tuna a la Plancha with a Catalonian classic, romesco. A thick fillet was perfectly seared, rare as requested, again showing off the subtle smokiness this method of cooking uniquely imparts. Roasted red peppers, almonds and smoked paprika form the basis of romesco, chunky and punchy in this instance- a perfect foil to rich, meaty tuna. Alongside sauteed broccoli with almonds this was a clean, simple dish with each element delivering. When you utilise seafood as fresh as the sea breeze on the Dun Laoighaire pier, there is no need to over-complicate dishes.
Committed to choosing an authentic Spanish classic, Rachel opted for Chicken and Chorizo Paella €19 to which she was able to add a selection of seafood for €8. While Jamie Oliver recently sparked a debate about the propriety (or lack there of) of chorizo in the ubiquitous Valencian dish, I personally wouldn’t have it without it. Thick coins had rendered into the skillet laden with juicy chicken thigh, coating each grain of rice with unctuous ruby fat. Mussels, clams and perfectly cooked king prawns crowned this seriously generous dish.
Both achingly full after two solid courses, we really believed our own falsehood that dessert was out of the question. Alex had other ideas, and explained that all ice creams and sorbets were made in house, we couldn’t resist rounding out our little holiday meal with an icy treat.
Rum and raisin ice cream was delicious (I wanted to take tubs of it home!) and mango sorbet alongside seed-studded vanilla was evocative of a Solero in the sun. Something I would never normally order, Selection of Ice Cream and Sorbet €8, was the perfect showcase of how everything is handmade in Le Plancha.
In for a penny, in for a pound reasoning dictated that a Chocolate Fondant €8, one of my favourites, should also be summoned. And for this flash of gluttinous genius, we were both grateful, as I can confirm this fondant was flawless – my dish of the night. We very nearly licked the plate.
Saying our goodbyes, we were shocked to discover that 3 hours had elapsed – time really does fly when you’re enjoying yourself with good food and good company. Our bill, excluding service, came to €88. On a cold night or indeed a balmy Summer one, I can imagine Le Plancha would be a solid choice for a celebratory meal, midweek treat or girl’s catch up, all of which could be observed looking around the dining room. We agreed that Le Plancha would be a lovely destination for anyone looking for a Mediterranean mini-break for a night – a little fiesta of flavours for all tastes.
T: 01 2845860
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.